The Oriental Ceramic Society was founded at a gathering of twelve collectors and connoisseurs who met on the 21st January 1921, in the drawing room of S.D. Winkworth’s house at 13 Craven Hill Gardens, Kensington, in London. It continued to meet in different members’ houses for the next ten years, where members would bring specimens from their collections to discuss with each other. The first Transactions of the Society was published in 1923.
The Society’s mission soon expanded well beyond the field of ceramics to the arts of Asia in general In 1933, the Society agreed to expand its membership and grow from a gathering of friends into a learned society governed by articles of association, with membership open to anyone interested in oriental ceramics. Membership quickly increased to 120. The Society also played a leading role in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art, held in 1935-6 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London – the largest exhibition of Chinese art ever held and possibly ever to be held.
From 1946 to 1956, the Society’s meetings moved to the basement of Bluett & Sons, then one of the leading dealers of Asian art in London, where exhibitions of objects from members’ collections were held once or twice a year. In the 1950’s and 1960’s a regular exhibition programme was organized, which in turn covered the arts of the major Chinese dynasties, Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911), but also highlighted special topics such as the various Song dynasty ceramics, and blue-and-white, monochrome and polychrome wares from the Ming and Qing. These exhibitions were held at the Arts Council Gallery in St. James, London.
The Silver Jubilee of the Society in 1971 saw a major exhibition on The Ceramic Art of China held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The Society also organised exhibitions on other works of art, such as jade and ivory. The Society’s exhibition catalogues remain standard works on the respective topics. (The most recent exhibition was in 2016, and our next one is in 2021.)
The Society offered a continuing programme of lectures, handling sessions, visits to collections, and international tours, which by the 1980s included tours to China to inspect kiln sites, view museum collections and meet archaeologists, museum curators and ceramic specialists there. Due to the generosity of some of its members, a Chinese Scholars Fund was set up to invite Chinese experts to lecture in London.
The Society remains the main international Society devoted to Asian art, and ceramics in particular, and continues to offer a rich programme of lectures, and other events throughout the year.